Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Key to the Golden Age

Howdy key lovers!

Today’s key is a special treat, especially for all you history-lovers!  It is the key to the main gate of Wilanow Palace, which lies five miles south of Warsaw, Poland.  The key, donated to the Baldpate by Ms. Sophia Zaleski Hinkle in 1937, opens the gates to an enormous baroque-style structure almost sitting on thousands of square feet of beautiful gardens.  But before we can understand the significance of today’s key, we must dive into a bit of Poland’s history.

Key donated by Sophia Zaleski Hinkle.

During the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries, Poland became an extremely prosperous nation under the rule of the Jagiellonian dynasty.  There were massive amounts of territorial expansion during this time, and the country underwent a cultural renaissance.  In 1569, a groundbreaking union between Poland and Lithuania, known as the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, was established.  The new government successfully formed a political system rooted in democracy and the country thrived.  This time period in Polish history became known as the Golden Age.

Now, fast forward 100 years to 1669.  Poland is involved in the catastrophic Swedish Wars and has recently been involved in a long series of other disastrous wars.  The capital city of Warsaw has been captured and about 80% of its population has been killed.  King John III Solieski is creating plans to build himself a palace, but in the wake of the political and financial turmoil that has taken place during the past 50 years, he intends to construct a small residence.  However, in 1683, the Polish army, led by King John III, crushes the Turkish army at Vienna and saves the city from the expansion of the Ottoman Empire.  This victory for Poland marks the beginning of a short return to the Golden Age.  The political and financial status of Poland is much improved from the mid-17th century, so King John III decides to upgrade the construction of his new residence to a much larger palace that embodies the ornate, expensive fashion of the Golden Age.  This fantastic palace, to which we have the key, represents the Polish nation’s celebration of victory, but more importantly, it is a symbol of hope for the nation’s people, who dream about the return of brighter days.

Wilanow Palace

After the death of King John III, the palace was inherited by his sons before being passed through the hands of many different owners.  After the short-lived sequel to the Golden Age in the late 1600s, the palace had a front row seat for the destruction caused by many wars and revolts in Poland.  Eventually it landed in the hands of Stanislaw Potocki, who restored it to its former glory and opened one of the first museums in Poland inside the building.

Wilanow Palace from the royal gardens.

Today, the Palace of Wilanow is reminiscent of a bygone age in Poland.  It represents a time of prosperity, victory, and success for the nation.  The artwork and décor that garnish the building are invaluable, and the detailed architecture is breathtaking.  As of 1937, when the key to the front gate of the palace was donated to the Baldpate, the property was owned by Count Bronicki, but today it is a state-owned museum.  If you find yourself in Poland, a visit to this exquisite palace is a must, and make sure you drop by the Baldpate Key Room to see the magnificent key that opens the gates to the Golden Age!

Blog written by:
Alicia Byers
Museum Curator, The Baldpate Inn